Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 | Zambia and South Africa
I’ve been dragging my feet a bit on finishing my Fellowship. The rest of my class seem to have moved on, returned home to graduate school or set off for new exciting opportunities, but I haven’t been able to let go of South Africa. Last week I finished my final project: a Google Hangout, broadcast live on G+ and YouTube, intended to link up Kiva student borrowers at my field partner and a couple of their own, personal, Kiva lenders. You can watch the full video here , and the highlights reel here .
The Hangout connected five different laptops around the world: in Johannesburg, we had two student borrowers at the Maharishi Institute, Portia and Mamello, and the Institute’s CEO, Taddy Blecher. In San Francisco, we had Matt Flannery, Kiva’s CEO; we were also joined by two Kiva lenders from Providence, RI and Los Altos, CA, and finally a Kiva staff member and Maharishi lender in Nairobi. Stanford, our lender in Providence, had lent $25 to Portia; Ravi, or Los Altos lender, had generously made loans to both Portia and Mamello. Topics of discussion included the girls’ hopes and plans for the future, their inspirations, Kiva’s role in education loans, economic issues in South Africa and even how to go about ensnaring a job at Kiva!
As a former Google employee, I’m occasionally accused of being an evangelist for the company. This may be true, but I don’t think I was sneakily fed any Kool Aid during my time there. Hangouts really just are an awesome product, and Kiva makes a great use case for them- how better to work a multi-user video platform than to connect Kiva borrowers and lenders from all over the world? Even better, we can broadcast our Hangout live on YouTube, allowing Kiva lenders from everywhere to watch the conversation and comment. As a tech company itself, it seems natural for Kiva to adopt this new product to help facilitate deeper Kiva connections. I’d definitely encourage future Fellows to make use of the platform.
I’m very glad to have a video reminder of my Kiva Fellowship, which I can watch in years to come when I am very old and no longer able to travel around the world and do things like microlight over the Victoria Falls or go white-water rafting on the Nile. For me, one of the best things about a Kiva Fellowship is how it can surprise you: I ended up falling in love with my fellowship city, and am feeling a little bit miserable about letting it go. I’m now embarrassed to admit this, but I was slightly terrified when I found out my fellowship was to be based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I remember very clearly getting the email: I immediately started sending messages frantically to our Kiva Fellows Coordinator asking if he really thought it was a good idea for me to go there, and downloading Louis Theroux’s ‘Law and Disorder in Johannesburg’ on iTunes (if you’re thinking of visiting the city: don’t do this.)
As it turned out, though, this city isn’t nearly as scary as I’d anticipated. I have, on occasion, missed being able to drive with my doors unlocked or walk around on the street at night (in some cases, even during the day), and having my car break down at a traffic light here may well have been the most terrifying experience of my life, but, this city is unusual, different, vibrant and exciting. This brilliant Coldplay video  was filmed in Jo’burg: when I watched it some months ago while I was in Western Europe and it was raining, I started daydreaming about escaping. Not many people dream of escaping to Johannesburg, but hey, it worked for me.
Olivia was a Fellow in KF18, based in Zambia and South Africa. She now lives and works in Sydney, Australia. There are fewer giraffes in Sydney than Johannesburg, but there is quite a good zoo, so she thinks it’ll be alright. Apply to be a Fellow here!